Facebook bans Hungary minister's 'whites' versus migrants video

Migrants face Hungarian police in the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest in 2015.
Migrants face Hungarian police in the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest in 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BUDAPEST (BLOOMBERG) - Facebook removed a campaign video filmed by a senior Hungarian minister in Vienna, in which he tried to portray "white" Austrians as living in fear of Muslim immigrants in a warning to the Hungarian electorate preparing for elections next month (April 2018).

Facebook removed the video on Wednesday (March 7), saying it violated its principles forbidding comments that attack people based on their racial, ethnic or religious identity.

The video was part of an escalating anti-immigrant campaign by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party ahead of parliamentary elections on April 8.

While Fidesz has been in the lead after an all-out media offensive extolling its efforts to defend Europe's "Christian heritage," it suffered a painful by-election defeat in one of its rural strongholds last month.

That setback appeared to further sharpen its attacks on what it portrays as Hungary's main foes: immigrants, financier George Soros and recently also the United Nations.

For the video, Janos Lazar, who is in charge of the prime minister's office in Budapest, travelled to a Viennese neighbourhood to show what he said was the dirt and crime produced by incomers from the Middle East, which wasn't immediately apparent from the footage shot in the city that has topped the Mercer consultancy's global quality of living ranking for eight straight years.

Lazar said immigrants were pushing out locals from the area and leaving some schools without "white Viennese children."

He urged Hungarians to vote for his party to help avert that happening in his country.

Lazar's comments drew a rebuke from the city hall in Vienna. Renate Brauner, an executive city councillor, said on Twitter she was "bewildered and shocked" about Lazar's attack, which was a "sad example of xenophobia."

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declined to comment.

The nationalist Freedom Party, the junior coalition party which backs anti-immigrant policies and is close to Orban ideologically, conceded in a statement that the film was "inappropriate."

Lazar is the most powerful government minister in Orban's Cabinet who oversees the spy services and is in charge of disbursing billions of euros in EU funding.

He said he had asked Facebook to stop curtailing his rights to free speech and make the video available again.

UN agencies have also accused the Hungarian government of racism and of contravening its legal obligations toward refugees and civil society.